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Volume 470: debated on Thursday 24 January 2008

Treasury Ministers and officials have met a range of stakeholders, including representatives of the bingo industry, to discuss gambling taxation issues.

Bingo is the only mainstream gambling product that is doubly taxed, by VAT as well as gross profits tax. That level of taxation has been a primary cause in the closure of 81 clubs and the identification of a further 108 clubs as at risk. Since each club closure costs the Treasury some £700,000 in lost tax revenues, does not the Minister see the sense in removing this unfair imposition of VAT on bingo? That would be tax revenue-neutral, would prevent further club closures and would secure this popular leisure activity for thousands of people.

Obviously, we keep all taxes under review and decisions about gambling taxes are made at the Budget. It is not at all clear that removing VAT on participation fees would be enough to make some of the marginal clubs viable. I must correct the hon. Gentleman, as bingo is not the only gambling sector to face both duty and VAT. Gaming machines are liable to VAT and amusement machine licence duty. I must also tell the hon. Gentleman that in 2003, bingo saw a big reduction in its effective tax rate from 35 per cent. to a rate that ranges between 20 and 25 per cent. That is in line with all the other tax impositions on other forms of gambling.

Last autumn, I had the very great privilege of calling the numbers at the Byron bingo and social club in Hucknall. Will the Minister listen to the concerns of staff and customers, at the Byron and across the sector, about the effects that the smoking ban and the taxation system have had on the industry’s future? Will she look closely at bringing forward proposals in the Budget to help secure that future?

I assure my hon. Friend that we keep all such matters under close review. The Government have done good things for bingo, not least among them the fact that we lowered the higher rate of tax in 2003. In addition, we have removed the 24-hour rule and the membership requirements, and we have allowed maximum stakes on prize gaming machines to be doubled. We have also allowed rollovers and created the potential for much larger prizes. My hon. Friend mentioned the smoking ban, so he has not fallen into the trap of thinking that all of bingo’s problems are the result of VAT rates. They are not.

In a recent answer to me on this subject, the Minister said:

“The Government consider all relevant factors when establishing and maintaining fair regimes for the gambling taxes and keep all taxes under review.”—[Official Report, 14 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 907W.]

Bingo clubs provide important social benefits in many communities. What relevant factors did the Treasury consider that led it to conclude that bingo clubs should be taxed more than licensed betting offices and internet gambling?

The issues with internet gambling and offshoring are obvious, but I must correct the hon. Gentleman: the changes made in 2003 knocked 10 per cent. off the effective tax rate for bingo and brought it into line with other forms of gambling. Bingo is not discriminated against.